A Culpeper County man who used the internet to terrorize two former girlfriends, sending nude photos of the women to their parents and their friends — and in one case, her church — was sentenced to 6½ years in prison Thursday.
Satyasurya Sahas Thumma, 23, pleaded guilty to cyberstalking two women, computer hacking and aggravated identity theft in July and faced up to 17 years in prison when sentenced Thursday by U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney Jr.
“It was an ongoing and inescapable, 21st-century nightmare to these victims and it was horrible,” said Gibney, who imposed a sentence above the federal guideline range. The torment involved “revenge porn,” attempted extortion and threats of violence from purportedly dangerous people — a scheme as cruel as it was complex.
Both former girlfriends were in court Thursday. One of them and her mother addressed the judge.
“I was scared to go home because I thought they were really going to hurt me,” one of the victims said of threats she received from individuals created online by Thumma. “I was scared for my parents.”
Relations with her father, who had been the pastor of a church, remain strained, she said. Her mother told Gibney that her husband stepped down as pastor and has taken a secular job. The family is moving, she said.
There were nights, the victim’s mother said, when the family stayed locked inside their house and armed out of fear. “It just really destroyed our lives,” she said.
Gibney told them, “This could have happened to anybody. You should not hang your heads.”
Brian R. Hood, an assistant U.S. attorney, told Gibney that “when these young ladies had the audacity to break up with him, to just want to be friends, he went on a ... campaign to ruin them, ruin their families.”
“It was a burning hate. How else would you describe leveraging the church?” said Hood, who asked Gibney to impose a 10-year prison term. In a sentencing memorandum, Hood wrote: “From April 2018 until his arrest on April 25, 2019, the defendant manipulated, tormented and terrorized two former intimate partners and their families.”
In pleading guilty, Thumma admitted that in 2018, while he was a student at Virginia Commonwealth University, he began dating a high school senior in Northern Virginia. The girl sent Thumma six to eight nude photos of herself via Snapchat, which Thumma saved.
She broke up with Thumma in April 2018 and he tried to persuade her to stay in a relationship, warning her there would be unspecified consequences to their break-up.
The young woman started receiving threatening text messages from telephone numbers she did not recognize. Several of the messages, which were all sent by Thumma, included nude photos of herself that she had sent Thumma. The sender demanded more nude photos and threatened to post ones he had on the internet unless she complied.
She and her mother reported the texts to Culpeper police. While the victim and her mother were meeting with investigators, the victim was receiving texts and Snapchat messages from Thumma. She later received more anonymous demands sent by Thumma for nude photos.
Thumma anonymously sent nude photos to both of her parents and threatened to send their daughter’s nude photos to her church.
The second victim started a relationship with Thumma in the summer of 2018. At the end of the summer, she returned to college in another state and the relationship continued via Instagram and Apple’s FaceTime app.
She also sent Thumma nude photos of herself before ending the relationship that November. Thumma threatened to post the nude photographs online and send them to the woman’s father, a Baptist minister.
Thumma, hiding his telephone number, sent the woman text messages from an unidentified number. On Dec. 26, she was sent an email by Thumma from “GhostFlex@protonmail.com” that contained two nude photos of her along with her family’s home address.
From last December to February, she received emails written by Thumma from “GhostFlex@protonmail.com” and some from “firstname.lastname@example.org.” Hesh@ctemplar demanded $25,000 and that the payment should be made via bitcoins, a type of digital currency.
In February, Thumma accessed her Twitter account and changed the email address for her account to “email@example.com.” He also sent 10 messages containing nude photos from her Twitter account to various friends associated with her account.
In March, the woman and her mother received text messages that contained a selfie taken by Thumma who was in a hospital bed wearing a patient gown with red marks that appeared to be blood.
It turned out that Thumma, apparently intoxicated, had crashed his car in the 900 block of West Cary Street. He was taken to the VCU Medical Center for treatment of his injuries.
The FBI arrested him on April 25 when he arrived at court on the DUI charge. A search of his iPhone revealed multiple nude photos and videos of the second victim.
Thumma’s lawyer, Paul Gill, cited Thumma’s difficult childhood. Born in rural India, he lived in a one-room home with no electricity. His father moved to the U.S. for a job and his family joined them when Thumma was 4. He has lived in Virginia since then and is a naturalized U.S. citizen, Gill said.
As a child, Thumma witnessed domestic violence and was himself beaten by his parents, Gill said. Thumma had no significant legal problems growing up and graduated from VCU last year with a degree in finance.
“I’m not asking for probation,” Gill said. “I’m asking for, effectively, five years. ... It isn’t a wrist-slap,” he said. Gill said Thumma has psychological issues that can be treated, including his poor handling of rejection.
Given a chance to speak before he was sentenced, Thumma said, “I feel really bad for what I did.”
He told Gibney that his problems started when he started drinking alcohol and that he is trying to work his way through the steps of the Alcoholics Anonymous program.
“I’m glad I got caught,” Thumma said. He said he now has a chance to face and overcome his problems.
Gibney said, “It’s a devastating crime with real victims, very, very serious.”
After sentencing, the judge warned Thumma not to try and get in touch with any of the victims.
“If you get back in contact with them, you will be back in jail so fast your head will spin.”